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Mechanical Turk Crowdsourcing (MTurk): Make Money at Home

Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Mechanical Turk provides tasks that are easy for humans, but hard for computers

Mechanical Turk provides tasks that are easy for humans, but hard for computers

What Is Mechanical Turk?

Mechanical Turk is a website developed by Amazon that provides simple online tasks for workers to perform. Mechanical Turk (or MTurk) workers work using their own computer from home or any convenient location. The MTurk tasks are called Human Intelligence Tasks or HITs. These are tasks that are difficult for computers to perform automatically and require human intelligence. Workers are paid money for each task they complete. Tasks vary in difficulty, amount of time required, and amount paid for successful completion of the task.

The name Mechanical Turk comes from a mechanical chess playing machine that was a novelty attraction in Europe in the 1700's. The Mechanical Turk appeared to be a machine dressed up as a Turkish man that could play chess and easily beat human opponents. However, the machine had a hidden compartment that allowed a human chess master to control the machine.

What is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing is the concept of turning to an anonymous crowd to find answers or to complete tasks, rather than turning to a specific individual or organization. In this case, the crowd is the anonymous Mechanical Turk workers. The Human Intelligence Tasks are designed so that it does not matter who completes the task- it only matters that the task is completed correctly. Therefore, anyone in the crowd can complete any of the tasks with equivalent results.

One benefit of crowdsourcing is that workers can select which tasks they would like to work on. Workers can review lists of tasks and select the tasks that are most interesting or that pay the most. For crowdsourcing employers, the key benefit is instant access to a large number of workers with no commitment who can complete tasks on-demand.

Some tasks do require qualifications. For example, Mechanical Turk workers may need to pass a test or have a certain approval rate on the tasks that they have completed before obtaining access to some higher-paying tasks.

What Kinds of Tasks are Available?

There are many tasks available on Mechanical Turk, with new tasks added continuously. The following are typical task offerings that I have encountered:

  • Perform internet searches using google or yahoo, paste the top result into the form on Mechanical Turk
  • Enter contact information from scanned business cards into forms on Mechanical Turk
  • Obtain street address and phone number of a specific business
  • Write product descriptions from rough information provided
  • Propose trivia questions and answers to trivia questions
  • Participate in research surveys- this involves reading material and answering questions including the worker's demographic information
  • View images and flag inappropriate material
  • Review Linkedin profiles, flag suspicious entries
  • Listen to audio recordings and type a transcription
  • Read web articles and rate them

These Human Intelligence Tasks are simple for people to perform, but difficult for computers to perform automatically with high enough quality.

How Much Money Can I Make Working from Home on Mechanical Turk?

The payment for tasks I have encountered ranges from $0.02 for some simple web searching tasks that take a few minutes to over $4.50 for writing an article or transcription of audio recordings that may take an hour or more. So far, I have accepted only simple tasks as I become familiar with working on Mechanical Turk.

The table below shows some actual earnings data from working at Mechanical Turk. I have worked 4 days on Mechanical Turk for 2 hours each evening. During these 4 days, I earned $16.10, plus a few tasks with approval pending. This works out to about $2 per hour.

As I build my qualifications and take on higher-paying tasks, I imagine I could easily double my earnings. I have performed my tasks carefully: I have 100% approval rate on my completed tasks. Many tasks require workers have 95% or higher approval rates in order to qualify to accept the work. Some tasks offer bonus payments for very high quality work, providing an opportunity to increase earnings.

How Much Can You Make on Mechanical Turk? Example Earnings

How Much Can You Make on Mechanical Turk? Example Earnings

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How to Become a Mechanical Turk Worker and Get Paid to Work From Home

  1. Visit and apply to become a Mechanical Turk worker
  2. Within 48 hours, you should receive registration invitation via e-mail to complete the registration process
  3. Provide your address and tax information at the MTurk website
  4. View available Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) and begin work
  5. Successfully complete HITs to earn payment when your work is accepted
  6. Your payment can be applied to an gift certificate or to a U.S. bank account

Note: Payments for new workers are delayed 10 days, and you must complete at least 1 HIT per day for 10 days.

Mechanical Turk Worker Safety Tips

  • Make sure antivirus and malware protection on your computer is up-to-date. Some tasks will take you to websites outside Amazon's Mechanical Turk environment
  • Do not provide personal information while working on tasks
  • Eye strain and repetitive stress injury may be occupational hazards of being a Mechanical Turk worker. Take frequent breaks.

Succeeding as a Mechanical Turk Worker

  • Many tasks are available only to workers with very high approval rates for their completed tasks. If you don't understand a task, or are having trouble completing it, you should return the task to avoid having your submission rejected.
  • You can preview most tasks before accepting them- if a task turns out to be undesirable, you can always return it without penalty.
  • Most people could easily make a few dollars per hour working on Human Intelligence Tasks on Mechanical Turk

Recommended reading:

How to Make Money Blogging

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


Amy from East Coast on September 29, 2016:

I have heard some good things about mechanical turk. I don't think I would engage in it. I feel the pay is probably the same on Swagbucks and MyLot. I am sticking to Hubpages. The pay and work is more rewarding!

Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on March 24, 2013:

Kidscraft- I agree that this work is not for everyone. I got some eyestrain after 2 hours of work. Also, the earnings potential is fairly limited.

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on March 24, 2013:

Very interesting but I think I will pass on that one as I spend already a great amount of time working on visual drawings and pictures on my computer.... I want to save my eyes for my own work!

Thank you for sharing that information!

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